All the stress of last week fell away the moment we arrived in Tenerife on Sunday afternoon. Welcoming us here were our friends from London who’d already been soaking up the sun for a few days.
On Tuesday, we celebrated our youngest daughter’s 7th birthday, and the hotel staff had truly gone out of their way to make sure our daughter received a grand celebration with cake, decorations, and some extra surprises throughout the day.
For her birthday breakfast, our friends joined us, and we were a pretty loud crew of three grown-ups and five girls. As the cake was presented, one of the waitresses approached my friend, a British-born Indian whose daughters are a glorious blend of different heritages, just like my own.
“I hope you’re happy with the cake,” she said, apparently thinking she was speaking to Mrs Baron.
My friend suppressed a giggle but not wanting to embarrass the waitress, she nodded and smiled, adding a few pleasantries.
This wasn’t the first time she’d been mistaken for being my husband’s wife; the night before we’d left all the girls in the care of two local babysitters while we enjoyed an adult evening of food and wine at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Again, a waiter assumed my friend was Mrs Baron and looked rather embarrassed when he realised his mistake.
So why the confusion? And what’s the big deal?
My British husband is of mixed African and Indian Caribbean heritage, and I am white European. Implicitly, people assumed that the two people with darker skin were a couple, not me and my husband.
At first, we just laughed at the confusion and, slightly inebriated, joked about me being the mistress or the nanny, but then my friend said, “isn’t it a bit racist to assume that the two people with similar skin colour belong together?”
“I don’t know if it’s racist,” my husband answered, “but it’s definitely ignorant.”
It got me thinking; why is it that in 2017, ignorance and prejudice about mixed-heritage couples persist?
Even in London, one of the most diverse cities in the world, I sometimes notice people’s reaction when they realise my husband and I are a couple. Had he been white British, no one would have batted an eye lid, but because he’s black, we’re seen as anything but an ordinary couple. What they don’t realise, is that my husband and I are very similar in all but the colour of our skin.
Humanity has made huge advances in science and technology, and there’s now scientific evidence that the old racial divisions are socially constructed and not rooted in any real biological distinction.
Yet, prejudice and ignorance persist in every society. Albert Einstein once said, “It is harder to crack prejudice than an atom.” Having studied and worked in conflict resolution, I know just how difficult it is to break down the barriers of prejudice and intolerance. But we must keep working towards it.